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December 07, 2016
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A vision for rural education

Fortunately for us, rural school districts have two major advantages that outweigh the obstacles. The first is their strong community base. Rural schools, far more than suburban or urban schools, are hubs of their communities. Multi-generational populations that characterize most rural communities create a unity of purpose and a civic loyalty that serve our schools well. In New York’s less-affluent rural school districts, property taxes, compared to average household incomes, are much higher than in suburban or urban districts—yet rural school budgets are more often approved by voters.

The second advantage is an outgrowth of the first. Rural schooling is personal schooling. Too many kids in suburban and urban schools are “anonymous.” Our students aren’t. As in the theme song of the old TV show “Cheers,” in small, rural schools “everybody knows your name.” And largely because of this dynamic, rural kids (like ours) are better educated. No wonder they’re better behaved, more mature, more self-disciplined and just plain “nicer” than most other kids.

There are trade-offs to life, and choices have consequences. We chose to live here in Sullivan County where our children breathe clean air, drink clean water, play outdoors and attend small rural schools. Yes, rural schools like Sullivan West have their limits and face some tough obstacles. Providing “excellence and equity” and achieving other ambitious visions that we have for our schools will not be easy. But if good teachers continue to find their ways to rural classrooms, I’ll bet that we’ll continue to make progress, even against the strong headwinds that are blowing our way.

[Dr. Kenneth Hilton is the outgoing superintendent of the Sullivan West Central School District. He is retiring on July 1.]